Malaysia never stops changing. Controversial areas like race, religion, native privilege (bumiputera status), and national language are constantly in a state of flux. Most recently, when I registered the birth of my latest child, I discovered that the birth certificate itself had changed (for the second time), and that now the race of the child was explicitly stated on the birth cert. Prior to this, the race of the mother and father were stated, but not that of the child. I didn’t really know what that meant, but I figured it implied some latitude in determining the child’s race at some future time, like when he got his national Identity Card, for example. Instead, now, the child’s race is designated on the birth cert, AND the child takes the race of the father. Well that’s clear enough. Except wait. What race am I?
They call me Orang Putih over here, and I’m white back home (let’s not get into that again), but Lo! There is no Putih option. I didn’t even ask about Jewish. I tried to put American, which would be great if it would stop people from telling my son he’s an Englishman, but the counter clerk said that wasn’t an option either. So, my son and I, we’re Europeans now. It’s been a long 150 years from the Motherland, but finally, in Malaysia, I return to my roots and throw European offspring.
That’s fine really, if that’s what it has to be. But does it? Jordan MacVay, who is expecting another child, got on the telephone and tried to get some straight answers out of JPN, the National Registration Department. And it appeared he did, until the exceptions, the workarounds, and the contradictions started cropping up, as they always, invariably do. Check out the comments section for more.
Along the way at Jordan’s, I took the chance to whine again about the extra-special immigration and registration laws here in the Land of the Hornbill. The most bizarre inconsistency being that in the rest of the country, children born of one bumiputra parent inherit bumiputra status, whereas in Sarawak, both parents must be bumiputra. Combined with the ruling above about inheriting race from the father, and you wind up with West Malaysians who are ethnically European but receive Bumiputra privileges, and Sarawakians who are ethnically Malay or Iban but do not receive Bumiputra privileges. The recent Marina Undau case in particular caused widespread murmuring in Sarawak, which our Chief Minister could probably not ignore, considering his own children of mixed descent.
Barely had I finished venting on the topic at Jordan’s, when I received a government circular in my Inbox. As of November 23rd 2009, all Sarawakians and Sabahans with one bumiputra parent are to be considered as bumiputera by all government agencies. Amazing. No newspaper headlines, no parliamentary act, no public debate – just a government memo and it’s done. Download it and read for yourself.